Actor finds hope in American Blues Theater's 'Rainmaker'

Hope is the most endearing aspect of “The Rainmaker” for Howie Johnson, who's starring in the American Blues Theater's new production of the N. Richard Nash drama.

“It's about hope and about how when things aren't going the way you want them to, to put yourself out there,” said Johnson, a former resident of Carol Stream now living in New Lenox. “A lot of people can relate to this in some shape or form.”

“The Rainmaker” will run Friday, Aug. 28, through Sunday, Sept. 27, at the Greenhouse Theater Center in Chicago. Johnson plays Deputy File, a stoic police officer with a softer side.

The original play opened in 1954, and was adapted into a movie with Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn in 1956. It's the depression-era story of a young woman who rejects File and then falls in love with a man named Starbuck, who promises to deliver rain to her drought-stricken farm during the Depression.

In the past, Johnson has often played stereotypical tough characters. But in this show, he faces the challenge of showing File's vulnerable side.

“A lot of times I get to play the tough guy, but I don't get to play the soft side,” Johnson said. “(In this show) it's challenging to go to places you try not to go to in real life — like playing the vulnerability of a person.”

Before pursuing his passion for acting, Johnson worked at a truck company. After 20 years in trucking, he decided to take improv and acting classes at The Second City. He began his professional career in 2004 as a cop in the NBC television show “E.R.”

“I always had an itch for it,” Johnson said of acting. “After taking classes, I realized I wanted to do it for real.”

Since, he has appeared on the NBC television show “Chicago Fire” and in theater productions such as Steppenwolf Theatre's “Middletown.”

“I prefer to do scripted stuff (now),” Johnson said. “The improv world wasn't really for me.”

He is a guest actor at American Blues Theater.

“They treat you like family here,” Johnson said. “Most of the people I've known for a long time, and those I haven't (after rehearsals) I feel like I've known them for a long time.”

“The Rainmaker” will have Pink Previews running Friday, Aug. 28, through Sunday, Aug. 30. Proceeds from these shows go to the Lynn Sage Foundation for breast cancer research.

Johnson has no set plans for the future, but wants to continue acting.

For now, he hopes that “The Rainmaker” leaves audience members inspired.

“These people (in the show) are really going through a rough time and they all manage to work their way through it, and that's what we all have to aspire to do,” Johnson said. “Viewers can be entertained and go away with a feeling of hope for themselves.”

Howie Johnson, right, rehearses with Robert Breuler for American Blues Theater's production of "The Rainmaker."

“The Rainmaker”

<b>Location: </b>The Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, (773) 404-7336 or <a href=""></a>

<b>Showtimes: </b>Special Pink Preview shows at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 28-29, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30. Regular run: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, from Thursday, Sept. 3, through Thursday, Sept. 27. Additional shows at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19, and Saturday, Sept. 26.

<b>Tickets: </b>Pink Preview tickets cost $19. Regular performance tickets cost $29-$49.

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